Posts Tagged 'Amsterdam'

Transitioning home

I arrived in Holland where it was still cold but the sun was shining and all the trees were green. I stayed in a hotel, just blocks from my friend’s house (that has no guest room), very convenient. It caters to young travelers. There were little things that gave this away: one had to pay for internet, 4 euros per device for 24 hours; there was a kettle and cups for making tea or coffee but the packets/tea bags were to be requested at the front desk, which required exiting one building with very steep stone steps, and entering another,  with ditto.  The beds were made for skinny people, 80 cm wide or made be even 70 cm.

We made a trip to the local supermarket to get me my favorite foods for dinner, had a glass of wine, toasted to turning 65 and then I returned to my hotel.  The next morning IU checked out, walked in a completely deserted Amsterdam (it was Ascension Day) to have my breakfast and prepare my lunch for in the plane. We drove in no time at all to Schiphol. The roads were as empty as I have ever seen them. All Holland was still asleep. I kind of like Holland that way.

Back in the US, one month makes a big difference in spring time. Everything was green, trees flowering and an occasional tulip still going strong.  It was nice to be home.

Learning halfway around the world

Today (Friday) our Learning Summit with ICRC ended in Dar es Salaam, but I was already gone and spent the day in Amsterdam while Axel made his way westwards across the Pacific and then China to meet me in Kuala Lumpur. He should be there by now while I still have a 12 hour night flight ahead of me.

After a 10 hour not so restful night flight from Dar es Salaam to Amsterdam I decided to treat myself to an upgrade and managed to get the last seat for 40.000 miles and 250 Euros.  I have just this one night to get ready for the next assignment which will last from Sunday afternoon till Thursday next week. During that time Axel will wander around KL, find us nice places to eat at night and prepare our trip to Vietnam.

My assignment in Dar es Salaam was short, just three days. We had some 40 people from Asia and Africa and Europe participate in a “Learning Summit” – with the learning aiming at a better understanding of how ICRC program managers and their partners, rehab center managers, can better manage and lead the services for people with mobility challenges, and mobilize the disability sector to push ahead with the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. With four colleagues from MSH it was light work for me. I left the group in good hands. This may well be the last of a whole series of event with ICRC. We have made good friends and everyone has learned something about the others’ trade. It has been a wonderful ride.

Now I am getting ready for more wheelchair related work, a management training for rehab center managers and a stakeholder meeting to bring together Malaysian stakeholders who are critical to make services available and accessible to people who need them. It has been among the more rewarding assignments in my long MSH career.

In between Africa and Asia, in between ICRC and wheelchairs I enjoyed a day with my friend Annette who lives in the heart of Amsterdam. She bought me my favorite foods, raisin rolls with old cheese and osseworst (raw beef) on dark bread. We walked up and down the colorful Albert Cuyp market, had herring, a freshly made, still warm stroopwafel, with syrup dripping down my hands. We drunk coffee in a hip place (not a coffee house) and strolled along lovely shops as if we had all the time in the world. We did. Amsterdam can be so bewitching in spring (and any other time when it is not bone chilling cold and/or raining).

Nearly there

I had a long drawn out breakfast with my colleague. It was nice not to have to look at my watch. We talked for hours. We were the only ones from our party who had not left. Downstairs in the lobby an unmanned piano played Auld Lang Syne and other seasonal melodies.

I had planned to have a massage in the morning but my Ethiopian friend E said she’s come to pick me up for a coffee at 9. She never came and I never had my massage. Instead I finished some administrative chores and then went to the airport.

The baggage check revealed something metal in my luggage. To the man behind the computer screen this appeared suspicious. I had to unpack my suitcase. I knew what he was looking for, the bronze Nepali temple bells which I use to indicate that time’s up in my workshops. He asked what they were and I told them they were bells for praying. His supervisor was called and this time I told him these were bells I used for praying. He smiled and decided not to confiscate them when I indicated that I really needed them for my religious practice.

In Nairobi I stepped into the wrong bus, the one that went to the terminal. When I was asked to pay 20 dollars for a transit visa I protested. That is 5 dollars per hour for my 4 hour wait, I said. When the immigration official understood that I wasn’t going to leave the airport I was handed over to a nice gentleman who organized a small bus to take me across the airport to the transit hall.

The KLM double-decker Boeing packed us like sardines, and then, 8 hours later, deposited hundreds of us at a drizzly Schiphol airport before 5 AM. Here I am now, waiting for the next and final leg of this long trip. I feasted on beschuit met kaas in the KLM lounge. I didn’t touch the speculaas or the stroopwafels and licorice because I am still on a no-processed-sugar diet, quite successfully I might say. I am experiencing that mental clarity I was promised 6 weeks ago. Indeed!

Zombie-selfie with mask

All the non AF flights to Europe are full. There was not one inch left in the KLM flight from Nairobi. It was one of those mega super jumbos where you can’t see the end when you stand near the cockpit; ten people per row, endless rows.  I had had some illusion that I could maybe use a few of my nearly 700000 frequent flyer miles, which I can never use for upgrades because of the class we are booked in, but B-class was of course also full on all three legs.

I had taken two sleeping pills that I found in my luggage, leftovers from some other trip long ago. A French brand that I didn’t recognize but I took them anyways. I  took them too early. They kicked in nearly immediately when I still needed to be alert and go through the boarding process. They reserve three hours for this process in Nairobi. I completed the required steps like a zombie. By the time the doors of the plane closed, hours later, the zombyness had worn off. I think I had taken ‘falling asleep’ pills rather than sleeping pills.

IMG_0964At Nairobi airport I put on my high-tech 3M mask. I was the only one. People looked at me with a mixture of compassion and fright – Ebola does hang in the air even though technically speaking it doesn’t. But when I coughed I could tell people were relieved I did it inside the mask. And when others coughed or sneezed I was glad I was inside my mask. This time I didn’t take it off, even though it is very uncomfortable to wear if for 10 hours on end. It left funny marks over my face and fogged up my glasses. But I know the alternative and so I persisted.

And now I am in Amsterdam and feel like a zombie again. And once again I have to be an alert zombie so as not to miss my flight. For the first time I have agreed to a window seat. I don’t want to get up for anyone, nestle into my window and complete the sleeping cycle that has been so disturbed.

But first there is a cheese and licorice commission I have to fulfill.


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